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Unit information: History of Science in 2017/18

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Unit name History of Science
Unit code PHILM0007
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Tho
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Philosophy
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit introduces the field of the history of science by exploring contemporary methodological problems against the backdrop of classical mechanics and the role played by a key conceptual term “inertia”. In the early modern period, the use of the terms “conatus”, “nisus”, “impetus”, and “vis insitia” were widespread and equivocal. They were, at the same time, claimed by various thinkers in a semantically precise and narrow ways. At the beginning of the modern period, the notion of “conatus” [striving] became increasingly associated with its conceptual opposite, “natural inertia”, a tendency towards rest. Through this and a series of other historical shifts, early modern thinkers developed the concept of inertia by associating the notion of a motion, matter, force, or property persisting in its state through time and space. Whether we understand this concept as perdurance or endurance, unity or synthesis, the problem of inertia cuts through fields across experimentation, natural philosophy, epistemology, and metaphysics.

What is highlighted here is obviously how the early modern period provided new concepts for the understanding of identity through change in different domains. With the waning of Scholastic substance concepts, physical notions of identity through motion required different metaphysical grounds. Across a series of connected issues, we shall examine classical accounts of this concept in this seminar.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of various core issues and debates concerning the history of science,
  2. construct and analyse sophisticated philosophical arguments and engage with other philosophers in constructive debate,
  3. undertake independent research as appropriate for MA level work,
  4. communicate ideas clearly and effectively to an audience.

Teaching details

1-hour lecture + 1-hour seminar each week + essay tutorials

Assessment Details

One essay of 5,000-6,000 words (excluding notes and bibliography)

Reading and References

Kuhn, T., Structure of Scientific Revolutions.